Katie Hammond

My Education

University of Cambridge

PHD | Sociology

McGill University

JD | Law

University of Cambridge

MPhil | Gender Studies

Carleton University

BA | Psychology


Career

Canadian Federal Court of Appeal

Law Clerk


Research

Polygeia

Expert Advisor

World Health Organization

Researcher and consultation organizer

McGill University

Postdoctoral Fellow

Katie is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Faculty of Law at McGill University and visiting scholar with the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy at Harvard University. She completed a PhD in Sociology and MPhil in Gender Studies at the University of Cambridge where she was a Gates Cambridge Scholar and Commonwealth Scholar. She also holds a JD from McGill University's Faculty of Law. She has held a number of fellowships including with the Brocher Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland and the Embryo Project at Arizona State University in the United States. She has been involved with policy development for organizations including the World Health Organization. She is really passionate about education and has taught in the areas of Psychology, Legal Studies, and Health Policy and Ethics.

How to Write a Winning Research Statement for the Social Sciences 

Katie Hammond, PhD - Gates Cambridge alumna

1. Make it clear why your project is important to your field and also to you!

In your research statement you want to make it clear to the admissions board that you have done your research surrounding the topic that you are interested in. You want to show that you know what has been studied, where the research gaps are in your field, and how your project fills a gap in the research. Showing that your study just fills a gap in the field is not enough. You also want to show an admissions committee it is important to the field, and society in general, that you fill this gap!

In addition to showing why your project is important to your field, and to the world, it can be nice to indicate why this topic is important to you. Show your passion by giving some indication of how this project fits into your interests, experiences and life story. For example, if you did a public policy degree and/or were involved in student politics during your undergraduate degree this can help to illustrate why you would be passionate about conducting a study on politics. PhDs are also a big commitment and you spend a LOT of time thinking about the subject that you chose so trust me when I say it’s important to pick something you care about. That will make the experience a great one, and you will probably do a better job at it!

2. Show the admissions board that you have a plan for how you will conduct your research

This brings me to the next piece of advice, which is to show an admissions committee that you have a plan for exactly how you are going to conduct this research. Be specific! If you are planning to conduct qualitative interviews indicate who you will interview (i.e. what group(s) of people) and how you will conduct these (i.e. over the phone, in person, etc.). If your project will involve archival research, be clear about what documents you will be looking at, where you will find those documents, and how you plan to analyze them.

It can also be important to indicate that you are equipped to conduct this research, for instance by referencing similar techniques you used in an undergraduate or master’s degree. Maybe you have not used these methods before, but you have received training in them, or have already found a course that’s offered at the school where you are applying for your PhD that your plan to take to get the training you need. These can be important things to highlight to show you have a plan and have thought this through!

3. Illustrate why this research is a good fit for the schools you are applying to

Finally, a great way to finish off a personal statement is to make it clear why you think this department at this university that you are applying to is the right place for you to conduct this research. Perhaps there are professors working on the same topic, who are using the same theories to support their work, and/or who are specialists in the methods you want to use. Usually you will have already reached out to possible supervisors, and it is important to mention this.

In addition to the department, the university as a whole might be a great fit because of possible collaborations across departments, or sometimes even where the university is located can be important to the kind of work you want to do. These are all things worth mentioning to illustrate why this school is the perfect fit for your work!

Q:  Why are you passionate about your academic field? When and how did you discover your love of your subject?  
A:

I love the areas of Sociology and Psychology because both of those disciplines are all about people - why people do the things they do, and how we can foster change to make the world a better place. Law is a terrific complement to that because our laws are hugely influenced by society, and also play a large role in shaping our world. 

  
Q:  What are your three top recommendations for a student targeting a masters in your field? What if they are preparing to switch their major to your field?  
A:

My top recommendations for a student looking to get into the social sciences - particularly an area like sociology - are: 1. Find an issue that you really care about (the environment, global markets and economies, health) and think about the social aspects to the issues. Trust me - there is a major social component! 2. Think about what kind of master's program you want. Do you want that that is course-based, thesis-based or both? Think about what ways you learn best and what skills you want to take away from the master's. 3. Look for master's programs that specialize in the areas that you are interested in. In particular, keep an eye out for programs that will teach you general theory in the social sciences but also has specialty courses in your general area of interest. If you plan on writing a thesis, you will also want to look for a program that will offer good courses on research methods so that you can get training in data collection and analysis. 

  
Q:  What resources can students use to educate themselves on your subject?  
A:

A simple google search will bring you to a whole host of introductory material on the social sciences, or an introductory textbook on sociology. There are many blogs out there dedicated to different streams in the social sciences, and that can help you find out current issues and debates. In particular, I have found that many social science journals and university webpages have their own blogs that provide short and easy to read pieces on trending issues that they are publishing on. If you want to get into the academic literature, a google scholar search is always a great starting point! 

  
Q:  What are your top tips to showcase an applicant  
A:

It is important for applicants to show that they are thorough researchers and that they have really done their research on their topic of interest and understand what has been done and where the research gaps are. Applicants will also want to know that they are thoughtful planners and they have thought about how they are going to conduct their research, possible ethical concerns surrounding this type of research and how this might balance with the importance of the work. Methods (i.e. the way you conduct research) is very important in the social sciences and admissions officers are going to be looking for meticulous and thoughtful people who have the training to conduct the research they want to do, or will get the training. I chat more about top tips for showing your strengths to admissions officers in my insight piece on "how to write a winning personal statement for the social sciences." Check it out! :) 

  
Q:  Any pitfalls or mistakes an applicant should be aware of as they apply to your program?  
A:

A couple big things to be careful of in your application... 1. Avoid making vague statements about why you have chosen this program, department and university. Admissions committees want to know that you have carefully thought about this program and why it would be a good fit for you. Avoid for instance writing that you are applying to this university just because it is prestigious. There should be more to your reasons for choosing this school. 2. The beauty of the social sciences is that they recognize the nuanced reasons that people do the things that they do. We live in a complicated world and the social sciences provide an avenue through which to explore why things are the way that they are. In your personal statement avoid overly definitive statements like "people do X because of X." There are usually many inter-connected explanations. 

  
Q:  Why did you apply to your university and program? What other universities and programs were you admitted to?  
A:

I applied to Cambridge because it's well-known reputation for having a terrific Sociology program that gives students a terrific balance of theoretical and research skills. In particular the department has one of the best research groups in the world specifically devoted to looking at new reproductive technologies - the topic that my MPhil and PhD was on. I connected with the director of the group before applying, and I was really enthusiastic about working with her. She ultimately became my PhD supervisor. Cambridge was the only place I applied for my PhD. 

For law school, I chose McGill because of it's strong focus on health and law. I also love that at McGill you get two law degrees - one in common law and one in civil law. As someone who loves to travel, speaks French and wanted to leave the door open to work in other countries, like France, getting both degrees was a perfect choice for me. McGill also has a bog body of international students.  



  
Q:  What are the common career paths for graduates in your field?  
A:

Graduates in Sociology go on to do a whole host of different things - sometimes depending on what their specialty was in Sociology. Some of the major career paths they take are to become academics, to work in various NGOs, to work for government back home, or to work in human relations sides of different corporations. As for McGill law grads, some go on to practice law in a whole host of different fields, others become legal academics, or others use their legal knowledge to help them in other career paths like politics. 

  
Q:  What aspects of the campus culture are your favorites? Which aspects surprised you? Which would you change if you could?  
A:

My favourite part of the Cambridge was the college system and the tight knit communities that you become part of at your college. After being there for a few years you really get to know many of the students and people working there. At your college you have the opportunity to try out sports like rowing, get involved in any type of club imaginable, and go to many different social events. My college in particular was well-known for hosting awesome howlers (comedy nights). Students from all across the university would come out for them! 

The Gates scholar community was also a really special part of my experience at Cambridge. We have an orientation at the beginning where you get the chance to meet everyone else. I felt like I had a whole group of friends within just a few days of coming to Cambridge because I met such great people through that community. Throughout the year there are events and weekly activities, like Gates yoga. We even have our own work space in the university centre. 

At McGill, I loved the huge variety of activities to get involved with at the law school. New groups were constantly being founded. In particular, I can think of many times that students came together to write policy briefs or collect signatures to play their part on pressing national or international problems. I loved the sense of commitment to improving social good that existed at the law school. 

  
Q:  What is your favorite fun fact about your university? Any special events or traditions or legends?  
A:

Cambridge has 31 colleges! Think of this as 31 distinct communities, each with their own unique college culture. It is a blast to attend events and get to know the particularities of each of these colleges from their different architecture, to their varieties of activities and social events. 

  
Q:  How did you spend your summer vacation during university? Any advice for making the most of summer?  
A:

My PhD program was full-time so I largely spent my summers working on my research. However, I was able to travel a lot in between my work, and managed to get to many countries in Europe during my time at Cambridge. I also had the opportunity to take part in fellowships with research groups in the United States and Switzerland. With many budget airlines operating within Europe and a good amount of schedule flexibility afforded by a PhD program, I would recommend spending time working as a visiting scholar from other universities where possible. This allows you to meet other researchers, get fresh ideas for your work from different people, and visit new countries at the same time!

  
Q:  What makes you smile? Share more on a favorite hobby.  
A:

One of my all-time favourite hobbies is travel! Nothing makes me happier than scooping up my backpack and taking off to my next destination to immerse myself in different cultures, see new sceneries, try new foods, and meet new friends. Sometimes I travel with family and friends, and other times solo. I particularly enjoy spots off the beaten path that take me back to nature. I have been really lucky over the years to have lived in a number of different countries.... including the United States, England, Switzerland, and have traveled through fifty-some countries and counting! The flexibility of being an academic as well as the chance to participate in many academic conferences and meetings over the years has been a perfect fit for this hobby of mine. 

  
Q:  Why are you excited to mentor Dyad Scholars?  
A:

I would not be where I am today without the help of many wonderful mentors I have had, and continue to have in my own career. I really enjoy giving back to the upcoming community of social scientists and legal scholars by passing on everything I have learned. I love working with scholars, reading their awesome research ideas and encouraging them along the way. It is super exciting for me when the scholars I work with achieve their goals!